Ten things that make Lancashire stand out from many other English counties

Where is Lancashire? Is it the present-day county that has been chipped away by the 1974 Local Government Act and the later creation of Unitary Authorities? Or, if you go to the Friends of Real Lancashire website, is it the historic county that covers Barrow-in-Furness, Ashton-under-Lyne and Liverpool as well as Morecambe?

For the purpose of this Not So Perfect Ten, we shall go along with the pre-1974 boundary. The one that covers most of Merseyside, half of Greater Manchester, and a southern chunk of Cumbria. Our fellows at the Friends of Real Lancashire has listed twenty-one wonders of Lancashire. Complementing this is our version which covers the following areas:

  1. Hills;
  2. Towers;
  3. Trains;
  4. Architecture;
  5. Brass Banding;
  6. Parks and Gardens;
  7. Politics;
  8. Food;
  9. Sport;
  10. Industrial heritage.

1. Hills with awesome views

Where do we start? Lancashire’s position on the fringes of the Pennines and the Lake District sees the ancient ceremonial county framed by the Pendle hills and the Old Man of Coniston. If you take a train to Clitheroe, the view of the Pendle hills is superb.

If you are looking for a hill with stunning views in Lancashire, Rivington Pike (between Horwich and Belmont) is well worth the climb. You can see Southport and the Irish Sea on a clear day. Via Lever Park, it is easy to get to, by bus on the 575 route. Nearby Winter Hill is noted for its television and radio transmitters. Near Rochdale, Tandle Hill has splendid views of the Lancashire town, plus Manchester and further afield.

2. Iconic towers

If Pointless had a round dedicated to Iconic Lancastrian Towers, Blackpool Tower would get you 97 points. Opened in 1894, it was built as an Anglophile answer to the Eiffel Tower, only with an iconic circus and a ballroom accessed from ground level. Higher than Blackpool’s most principal landmark, is the Winter Hill Television Mast – which is almost as tall as the Eiffel Tower. Today, it broadcasts DVB [Digital Video Broadcasting] Terrestrial television channels, plus AM/FM and DAB/DAB+ radio signals.

Not a million miles away from Winter Hill is Darwen Tower (or Jubilee Tower), which was built to give walkers splendid views of Lancashire. This opened in 1898, commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. In Holcombe Brook, the Peel Monument is among the first things you see from a 472 or 474 bus from Ramsbottom. It is a memorial to Sir Robert Peel which was opened in September 1852.

3. Lancashire’s role in railway history

Need we say more: the world’s first inter-city railway line was the Liverpool to Manchester Railway, which is still in use today. With the hurdles of laying track over Chat Moss, this was a seminal moment in civil engineering. Opening on the 15 September 1830, it was an immediate success which cut the journey time from Liverpool to Manchester to two hours. On its opening day, William Huskisson MP was also the first person to have been killed by a passing train (after dying from his injuries).

Today, Transpennine Express trains link the two cities in less than an hour. With Northern’s punctuality and reliability issues, it can take two hours to get from Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester Victoria on their stopping services! Apart from the Edge Hill tunnels, the most tangible monuments of the pioneering line include the Huskisson Memorial in Newton-le-Willows and Liverpool Road Railway Station. Which, since 1983, has been home to the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.

4. Awesome architectural gems

Like Lancashire’s role in railway history, this deserves a much lengthier article. As we are distilling each entry to two or three paragraphs, our architectural gems include Manchester Town Hall (designed by Alfred Waterhouse), Liverpool’s Anglican and Catholic cathedrals, and the Ashton Memorial in Lancaster.

For more modern structures, Oliver Hill’s Midland Hotel in Morecambe is worthy of recognition. Also the northbound concourse of Forton Motorway Services on the M6 and Building Design Partnership’s iconic Preston Bus Station. Blackpool’s three piers, plus St. Annes-on-the-Sea’s and Southport’s piers are worthy of note.

5. Brass banding

On the other side of the border in Cheshire, Stalybridge Old Band is the oldest brass band in the world. Yet it was the Red Rose and the White Rose counties that brought it out to the fore at contest level. The most notable contest was the British Open Contest, set up in 1853 by John Jennison at Belle Vue Zoological Gardens and Amusement Park. A July contest began in 1886 before becoming the Grand Shield in 1921.

Today, the Grand Shield is among two other competitions that take place in May: the Senior Cup and the Senior Trophy. Since 2001, the Spring Festival has been held at Winter Gardens, Blackpool. As the venue for the North West Regional Finals each February, the Winter Gardens has become the spiritual home for brass banding in the region. With the multiplicity of first class brass bands in Lancashire, that is also worth another article.

6. Pristine parks and gardens

Lancashire is home to some splendid parks and gardens. As well as National Trust properties, this includes a plethora of public parks. Our favourite public parks include Stanley Park in Blackpool and Williamson Park in Lancaster, which is worth visiting for the Ashton Memorial alone. Haigh Hall and Gardens on the outskirts of Wigan was noted for its miniature railway.

If you are looking for a get-away-from-it-all park that has good bus and tram connections, Heaton Park fits the bill. We especially like the tram museum and the restored tramway up to the boating lake. It also has the remains of Manchester’s previous town hall building.

7. Politics

Lancashire’s political history is formidable to say the least. Its most seminal point in history was the Peterloo Massacre on the 16 August 1819 in St. Peter’s Fields. Manchester is also the birthplace of the Trades Union Congress, with their first meeting taking place in the Mechanics’ Institute in 1868. Without Sir Robert Peel, there would have been no modern-day police force. Had it not been for Emmeline Pankhurst and her peers, women probably wouldn’t have got the vote till halfway through the 20th century.

Our Red Rose County has had some bullish political figures in the last 200 years. One-time Blackburn MP, Barbara Castle introduced Passenger Transport Executives and the breathalyser test. To this day, she’s the only Transport Minister never to have had a full Driving Licence. Fellow Lancastrian Andy Burnham aims to build on her legacy by taking back control of Greater Manchester’s buses.

8. Fine food

Unless you have lived outside Northern England for more than thirty years, Lancashire’s epicurean delights are a joy to behold. For several years, Blackpool was noted for its tomatoes; before becoming today’s out-of-town-shedopolis, Ashton Moss was noted for its fine vegetable crops. Without our favourite Red Rose County, our bakery products would be somewhat lacking. A Manchester Tart (custard, jam, cherry and coconut on a pastry base) goes well with a brew. As does a nice Eccles Cake or a Chorley Cake.

If you look beyond the posh foodie markets, you can find all of the above in Bury Market (Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; market hall open six days a week). As well as the town’s most famous export, Black Pudding (great for breakfast butties or boiled in a pan with mustard to taste). As for savoury delights, nothing could beat a good pie as many Lancastrians may testify. Or a pie butty on an Oven Bottom Muffin. Then again, any bog-standard pie pales into insignificance alongside a Rag Pudding or a Carr’s Pasty. With chips and mushy peas. Believe me, you will never go back.

9. Sport

Lancashire is the birthplace of The Football League, whose headquarters were once based in Lytham St. Annes. Today, their present base is in Preston – home to England’s first League Cup Double winning team (Preston North End). Any reference to Lancastrian football history deserves volumes of bound books, never mind a series of blog posts. As well as the global phenomenon of Manchester United and Liverpool’s European adventures, it also covers the fall and rise of Accrington Stanley.

Apart from Association Football, Lancashire was one of two areas where rugby players wanted to be paid for playing rugby (hence the Northern Union’s formation at The George Hotel in Huddersfield on t’ other side o’ th’ Pennines). How can we forget the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester or Lancashire’s role in winning the World Cup Final in 1966?

10. Industrial heritage

What do think of this Not So Perfect Ten? Do you like that??? As well as spectacular scenery, industry is the first thing many people think of in reference to Lancashire. Especially the cotton industry which gave Manchester the nickname of ‘Cottonopolis’. There was also the Lancashire coalfield and the shipbuilding industry in Barrow. How can we forget the Manchester Ship Canal and Leyland’s role in commercial vehicles?

Though there are fewer ex-cotton mills about, our industrial heritage is celebrated in that very late-20th century industry of tourism. On occasional weekends, the Ellenroad Engine House in Milnrow has steaming sessions. For a general primer in the development of Cottonopolis, the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry is a must-visit attraction, as is the Portland Basin Industrial Museum in Ashton-under-Lyne. As the summer months get closer, there may be a future post on this subject area.

Before I go…

Could you add to our Not So Perfect Ten subject areas or elaborate on them? Feel free to comment.

S.V., 27 November 2019 (Lancashire Day)

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